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Today is National Coming Out Day, and we at Swansea University honour all who have come out as LGBT+, as well as those who have ‘come out’ as a straight ally for equality. Coming out still matters. When people know someone who is LGBT+, they are far more likely to support equality. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful and inspiring to each other.

Read more about the services, projects, and support available at Swansea University here.

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October 11th, 2016

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As many LGBT+ people will tell you, coming out is never one solitary event – as though I once said “hey everyone, I’m bi!” and then everyone knew. It’s a constant process, and for bisexual people especially so.

The first time I came out, rather nervously, was at university after getting involved in the LGBT+ Society. It prompted me to read more about sexuality, discuss sexuality with similar people, and I came to the realisation that I was allowed to identify as bisexual. During this time I managed to debunk all the myths about bisexuality I had acquired through my teens – that in order to be a “real” bisexual, you needed to:

  • Be equally attracted to men and women, or
  • Have an equal number of relationships with men and women, or
  • Have had at least 1 significant relationship with both a man and a woman, or
  • Not be in a monogamous relationship, or
  • Be sexually experienced, or
  • Be certain and fixed in your sexuality, or
  • Only be attracted to men and women, and no one from outside that binary

I had always felt bisexual, before I fully understood the word, but never felt as though I was allowed to identify as such. In my teens I had a boyfriend, and then in college I started a relationship with another man, which lasted through my university years. On the outside, I appeared to be heterosexual, and this felt convenient in some ways. I didn’t want to grapple with my sexuality, so I ignored it – I decided that unless I really fell for a woman, it wasn’t actually an issue. Being in an opposite-sex relationship was pretty much straight, right? Did it matter how I felt on the inside?

This was further complicated by my mental health and my social anxiety at the time, which meant that for a while my boyfriend was the only person I spent time with so I didn’t meet new people to be attracted to – thus reinforcing the idea that I wasn’t really bi, otherwise I’d have loads of crushes on people of all genders.

Once I realised I was ‘legitimately’ bisexual, in my 2nd year of uni, I started attending LGBT+ events regularly where it was assumed that I was not-straight (what a relief!), and I didn’t formally come out for a while. Actually, the first person I ever came out to was one of my lecturers in my second year – during a meeting with her, I said in passing “as a bisexual woman…” and it felt terrifying and freeing.

Then I came out to my boyfriend, who responded in a loving and supportive way – we were in a monogamous relationship so it didn’t affect the way we were with each other anyway. Then, 2 years later, when my uni boyfriend and I had broken up, I came out to a friend by blurting out that I wanted to date more women.

From there on, I was pretty much out – I referred to myself as queer or bi online, I changed my Facebook “interested in” to “men and women”, and I got more involved in local queer activism. I realised that I liked the word “queer” too (which means “not-straight” and has a more political slant), and started using both words interchangeably to describe my sexuality.

But a few months later, I met and fell for another man. And so I felt as though I was back in the closet – worse, I felt like a fraudulent queer because my only long-term relationships had all been with men.

But I resisted this urge to define myself by these biphobic ideas – this time, I still considered myself to be bisexual, and I continued to hold onto this part of my identity. I met other queer people, openly attended queer events, came out to new colleagues and new friends when the opportunity arose naturally, and a year ago I became the co-chair of the LGBT+ Staff Network.

Then, 3 years after that, I finally came out to my parents. It was early 2015, I was about to be featured in the South Wales Evening Post for my work with the Network, and I figured it was time for them to know. I knew rationally that it would be fine, that the worst I’d get would be prying questions and perhaps disbelief (to which I had an answer prepared: “It’s ok if you don’t fully understand, it just meant a lot to me that you knew”), but still I was terrified. I didn’t want my parents to be freaked out, or angry, or embarrassed. The evening came – after my Dad brought us all cups of tea, while we were sat around the TV half-watching Jurassic Park, I awkwardly blurted out “I have something to say…” and then I told them.

They looked a bit taken aback, but said words to the effect of “ok cool. We had a feeling.” My dad gave me a long hug, I had a bit of a cry, and then we went back to watching Jurassic Park. My dad made a joke about the family dog liking both ham and chicken, and I knew everything would be fine.

Sometimes bi people in opposite-sex relationships are accused of having “straight privilege” – that is, we have a certain amount of privilege because we can pass as straight. But this assumption of “straight-until-proven-queer” is another form of heteronormativity, which is something that hurts all LGBT+ people.

I celebrate coming out day because in a world where LGBT+ people still experience discrimination, harassment and violence, coming out and sharing our stories matters. But like many other LGBT+ people, I hope that eventually we no longer need a coming out day because the assumption won’t be that everyone is automatically straight. Hopefully one day, someone revealing their sexuality (whether that’s queer, straight, asexual, or anything else) will be as commonplace and unremarkable as someone revealing that they prefer donuts to cakes, or that they only like donuts with coffee and cake with tea, or that it depends on the topping, or that they actually prefer pie.

Cath Elms
LGBT+ Staff Network co-chair

October 13th, 2015

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In honour of National Coming out day on 11 October 2015, we at the LGBT+ Staff Network here in Swansea University are sharing some coming out stories. I hope that these will interest, inform and empower people and help raise awareness of how important, and challenging, it is to ‘come out’ as LGBT+.

To start the ball rolling, here is my coming out story.


 

The Yo-Yo Effect – a Coming Out Story

When people ask me about coming out, it seems they expect me to tell them about some huge incident or occasion when I declared my sexuality to the world, and dealt with the consequences. It’s a romantic vision, I admit, of someone making a huge statement, with subsequent life changes and, somewhere along the way, that ‘American Schmaltz’ moment when the estranged family welcome the black sheep back into the fold.

Right.

Sorry, but my coming out story is not really like that. It’s more like one of those annoying, serial adverts we used to get a lot of in the 80s and 90s, where, against your will, you have to keep watching them to find out what happened.

Coming out is huge. It really is. Even now, with so much more acceptance and legal protection for LGBT+ people, coming out makes you vulnerable. But it is really important, because it is a form of empowerment. It is an act of strength. It is an act of self-love. And it is a mark of respect to others that you trust they will deal with it appropriately.

For me, it began in the murky shadows of the 1980s. I had known for years I was . . well . . . not exactly straight. I had passionate crushes on my female friends. I snuck home from school when my mother was in work to watch Martina play Wimbledon, and disguised my urgent desire to watch the final as a burgeoning interest in the sport. But it was hard to admit, even to myself, that I was gay, in a valley where homophobia was the norm and local lads regularly took trips to Cardiff on a Saturday night to go gay-bashing in Sophia Gardens.

I was fifteen when I told my best friend. She acted cool, but assured me that she was straight, by the way, in case I had any ideas. Well, I had plenty but I knew she wasn’t interested. I was 18 before I had my first girlfriend, rapidly followed by my second, both schoolfriends, and both of whom ran back into their respective closets when the rumours about us started. Oh dear…but this was the first toe out of the closet. Those rumours brought some difficult questions, and then, my first coming out experience.

My sister, a year older than me, was very involved in my life. Being in a small town, we shared some of the same friends and often socialised together. And so one day, I was sitting on her bed whilst she put on her makeup. We got on well, despite her propensity for borrowing my clothes (she was 3 sizes smaller than me so I could never borrow hers!).

“So,” she says, carefully applying her mascara. “I heard some funny rumours. About you and Clarice.”

“Oh?” My stomach turned over. It’s a strange feeling, that burning desire to be known, to be truly known for who you are, but the terror of losing the love and support of those closest to you. It’s all very well for your head to tell you that if they can’t love you for who you really are, you’re better off without them. I didn’t want to lose my sister. And I definitely didn’t want her to freak out, tell my parents, and engender the worst case scenario, being kicked out on the street. That was a very real fear for me, the withdrawal of parental support, of the chance to have a carefree few years at university before real life began its full demands on my time and energy.

“Yeah,” my sister went on. “They say she’s your girlfriend!”

I laughed.

“Funny, isn’t it?” My sister grinned at me in the mirror.

I took a breath. “Yeah. The funniest thing is that it’s true.”

She gasped, then stood stock still, the mascara brush still in her hand, frozen half way to her eye. Then she said, “Oh, okay. That’s nice.”

I felt like I breathed out the biggest sigh of relief. It was okay. She wasn’t freaking out (though I learned later that she was, but she was determined to show me the love and positive regard she knew I would not get from my parents.) We agreed that day not to let on to the parents, and even though she asked for no details, her acceptance made a huge difference.

Not so my schoolfriends. As soon as the rumours began to surface in school, Clarice dumped me. Then there was Amy. More rumours. Another dumping. And then I ran back into my closet and firmly shut the door behind me. It was cold and lonely out there, and I didn’t like it. I got myself a boyfriend, proved I was straight, and carried on as ‘normal.’

Ditto my life in University. After one term on the gay scene, I was totally disillusioned by all the bed hopping, infidelity, and the phalanx of older barfly dykes who preyed on the ‘fresh meat’ but always went home alone. I didn’t want it. I wanted the white picket fence, the 2.4 cats. So after one term, one glorious term, I ran back into my closet again.

Years later, I finally came out to my parents. Well, to my mother. Living with a girlfriend in the early 90s, I felt that it was necessary to at least broach the subject with my mother. I was living a 4 hour drive away, completely independent, and rarely saw my family, but still. It mattered. That was the point. It mattered that my family knew me. So I rang my mother one day from a payphone (remember those?). This was during my second stint at university, as I embarked on my career and built a life for myself. I was secretary of the LGBT society in the students’ union, had run for Women’s Officer, and was a sexual health activist. I thought, at the very least I should come out to my mother. When I told her, she said, “you can’t be gay, you want children,” and I laughed.  I think she had known all along, but for her generation, it was easy to leave things unsaid. Then she asked if I was happy.  And I knew it was going to be okay. Her final words were “we won’t mention this to your father.”

Many more Years laterafter my mother died, the law changed, and I married my partner on the first day that civil partnerships became legal. It was like the biggest coming out story ever. Every day I came out, to the teachers in my son’s school, to my colleagues, to a new friend, I felt like I was breaking new ground. I always faced that fear. Yes, sometimes there was rejection, yes, family disappeared for the most part (except for my stalwart, always loving sister), but I dealt with it. Better to live as myself than suffocate in a blanket of self-deceit and invisibility. But I learned, as do many of my peers, that coming out is never one step, one act, one experience, it is a constant process of revelation, and requires strength, self-respect and the love and support of people who matter.

Coming out matters. It’s not easy, despite all the changes in the law and in society. People still have a hard time of it. Coming out means being vulnerable, but it also means truly being yourself, whatever the cost. People have died for the right to be themselves, to call themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and every other permutation of identity that makes us all so wonderfully diverse. It’s always frightening, it’s always a risk. But it matters.

 

October 10th, 2015

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